Operating rooms are major contributors to a hospital’s carbon footprint due to the large volumes of resources consumed and waste produced. The objective of this study was to identify quality improvement initiatives that aimed to reduce the environmental impact of the operating room while decreasing costs.
A literature search was performed using PubMed, Scopus, CINAHL, and Google Scholar and included broad terms for “operating room,” “costs,” and “environment” or “sustainability.” The “triple bottom line” framework, which considers the environmental, financial, and social impacts of interventions to guide decision making, was used to inform data extraction. The studies were then categorized using the 5 “Rs” of sustainability—refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose, and recycle—and the impacts were discussed using the triple bottom line framework.
A total of 23 unique quality improvement initiatives describing 28 interventions were included. Interventions were categorized as “refuse” (n = 11; 39.3%), “reduce” (n = 8; 28.6%), “reuse” (n = 3; 10.7%), and “recycle” (n = 6; 21.4%). While methods of measuring environmental impact and cost savings varied greatly among studies, potential annual cost savings ranged from $873 (intervention: education on diverting recyclable materials from sharps containers; environmental impact: 11.4 kg sharps waste diverted per month) to $694,141 (intervention: education to reduce regulated medical waste; environmental impact: 30% reduction in regulated medical waste).
Quality improvement initiatives that reduce both cost and environmental impact have been successfully implemented across a variety of centers both nationally and globally. Surgeons, healthcare practitioners, and administrators interested in environmental stewardship and working toward a culture of sustainability may consider similar interventions in their institutions.